Correction: The first version of this story mistakenly credited Dr. Sanjay Gupta as a psychiatrist taking money from pharmaceutical corporations. The name belongs to another Sanjay Gupta. Thank you to commenter Jeff Salisbury for the correction. We regret the error.

The medical news service MedPage Today has a reputation for getting facts about American health care right, but its newest contributor, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, does not.

Readers may recall that Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent, crossed swords with documentary filmmaker Michael Moore on the network in summer 2007. A report by Gupta had aired on an earlier date that claimed Moore misquoted the per capita cost of health care in Cuba.

In fact, it was Gupta’s “correction” that was wrong. That revelation should have vindicated Moore, but a 20-minute “debate” between Gupta and Moore, hosted by Larry King, was filled with other unsubstantiated assertions intended to impugn Moore’s credibility at a time when his critical documentary on American health care, “Sicko,” was turning audiences nationwide against the for-profit health care industry.

Paul Slavin, the chief operating officer of Everyday Health, the digital media company that owns MedPage Today, says hiring Gupta was “an easy call” because of the man’s “brand, stature and capabilities.”

But MedPage Today’s own contributors have criticized Gupta as an unreliable source. CNN presented the doctor as a “certified medical examiner” qualified to confirm the death of Osama bin Laden, but Gupta appears not to have the qualifications necessary to make the call. Another contributor chastised Gupta for failing to debunk the myth that vaccinations can cause autism when he was asked about it point blank. Instead, “He hemmed and hawed, leaving the impression that the question was still up in the air.”

But Slavin told The New York Times that Gupta would be relied upon to tell consumers whether to get flu shots for their children.

Economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman sees Gupta with clear eyes. Two years after Moore’s confrontation with Gupta, when the doctor was being considered for the position of surgeon general in the Obama administration (he ultimately gave up the pursuit), Krugman wrote in a blog titled “The trouble with Sanjay Gupta”:

Gupta … said [Moore] “fudged the facts.” In other words, he accused Moore of lying. That’s a very strong accusation, which had better be backed by solid evidence. Instead, we had CNN misreading a number from Moore; CNN objecting to Moore using a projected health care spending number for 2007 instead of an actual number for 2005 (and the projection was right, by the way); CNN accusing Moore of not showing a number that was in fact right there in the movie. And Gupta did not apologize, except for the misread number.

But MedPage Today vice president and executive editor Peggy Beck insists on Gupta’s worth and credibility. Gupta’s fame and “brand recognition” appear to be more important to the company than getting right certain facts.

See all of the clips that are relevant to Moore and Gupta’s encounter on CNN below.

Peggy Beck at MedPage Today:

Gupta’s continuing affiliation with CNN and CBS News secures his name recognition, but this new role will give him a dynamic presence among healthcare professionals as part of MedPage Today’s news for professionals — and will bring to the MedPage Today audience a perspective honed at the nexus of media and medicine.

The founding principle behind MedPage Today was simple: deliver informed reporting of the medical news making headlines outside the exam room to the busy clinicians inside the exam room because this is the news that prompts questions from patients. We wanted to arm physicians with the knowledge to answer those questions.

There is probably no person better equipped to fulfill that mission than Sanjay Gupta, MD, for the simple fact that he is equally at home in the newsroom and the operating room.

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